October Positivity: The Healing (dir by Russell S. Doughten, Jr.)

The 1983 film, The Healing, tells the story of Dr. John Lucas (played by Brian Jones).

Dr. Lucas has a bright future ahead of him.  He’s a successful and popular doctor in Des Moines.  He’s making a good deal of money.  He’s socially well-connected.  He enjoys playing golf every weekend.  Unfortunately, he also tends to neglect his wife and son.  His wife continually reminds Dr. Lucas that he was originally planning on becoming a doctor so that he could honor God.  But now Lucas has gotten materialistic and callous.  Lucas laughs off her concerns until, one day, Lucas is interrupted at the country club by a phone call informing him that his wife and son have both been killed in a car accident.

Sinking into despair, Dr. Lucas starts to drink.  Soon, he’s such an alcoholic that he has lost his job and his place in society.  With the exception of his fellow alcoholics, no one wants anything to do with Lucas.  Lucas is prepared to drink the rest of his life away but then, he sees an elderly homeless man having a medical emergency.  His natural instincts kick in and Dr. Lucas saves the man’s life and takes him down to the local shelter.  At the shelter, Lucas agrees to act as a doctor on the condition that no one push any religious stuff on him.  Following another tragedy, Lucas regains his faith.  However, his new-found idealism is put to the test when a junkie shows up at the clinic, carrying a switchblade and demanding a fix….

The Healing is another low-budget faith-based film from director Russell Doughten, Jr.  Doughten, who started out his film career working on 1958’s The Blob, directed several independent Christian films towards the end of his career.  This month, we’ve previously taken a look at Nite Song, Face in the Mirror, and Brother Enemy.  Like those films, The Healing was filmed on the streets of Des Moines, Iowa.  If nothing else, Doughten’s films served as a reminder that “urban” problems were not just limited to cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.  Instead, homelessness and crime were problems that afflicted every city, even the seemingly quite ones sitting in the middle of the country.  Unfortunately, The Healing often portrays the homeless as being plot devices as opposed to actual human beings.  In particular, one older gentleman’s only role in the film is to provide Lucas with some advice before promptly dying.

The Healing is achingly sincere in its desire to try to make the world a better, there’s no denying that.  Unfortunately, the film’s execution doesn’t always match its high ideals.  Brian Jones does a good of turning Dr. Lucas into a sympathetic character but the rest of the cast seems to the struggle with their underwritten characters.  The scenes featuring Dr. Lucas and the junkie also feel a bit rushed, as if the film itself was in a hurry to wrap things up.  As such, the conclusion of the junkie storyline never feels authentic and since the end of that storyline is also the end of the film, it casts a pall over the entire film.

Personally, as a history nerd, I’m glad that Doughten captured what Des Moines looked like in the early 80s.  If I ever find myself in Des Moines, I’ll compare the modern city to the 1983 version.  The film has its strengths but ultimately, it’s a bit too uneven to really work.

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 6.15 “You, Murderer” (dir by Robert Zemeckis)

To be honest, tonight’s episode of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt isn’t really a traditional horror story.  Instead, it’s a somewhat satiric homage to film noir.  But I’m going to share it anyway. Halloween is about more than just ghouls and ghosts and goblins, right?

You, Murderer is an experiment that doesn’t quite work but is interesting all the same.  This episode is basically one long POV shot.  Whenever our protagonist sees his reflection, we see Humphrey Bogart staring back at us.  Actual footage of Bogart was used in the show.  Sometimes it work, sometimes it just looks strange.  But it’s always interesting!

This episode originally aired on January 25th, 1995.  Enjoy!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: How To Make A Monster (dir by Herbert L. Strock)

How do you make a monster?

According to this 1958 film, the man to ask is Pete Dumond!

As played by Robert H. Harris, Pete Dumond is the chief make-up artist at American International Pictures.  He’s so good that he can easily transform handsome teen idols like Tony Mantell (Gary Conway) and Larry Drake (Gary Clarke) into convincing monsters.  Everyone loves Pete but there’s a problem.  As the new studio head explains it, horror just isn’t that popular anymore.  Teenagers are no longer interested in seeing movies about werewolves and Frankenstein’s Monster.  Instead, teens now only care about rock and roll.  Elvis has killed horror!

(Actually, the film argues that a recording artist named John Ashley killed horror.  At the time this movie was made, John Ashley was under contract to American International Pictures and the film even includes a dance number where Ashley performs his latest hit.  Ashley wasn’t a bad singer but it’s still hard to believe that he could have killed horror.  That said, the choreography is fun and every horror movie needs at least one random dance number.)

Sadly, Pete is about to be out of a job.  However, what the studio heads don’t realize is that Pete is more than just a makeup artist!  He’s also a master hypnotist!  Soon, Pete is using a special foundation cream to hypnotize Tony and Larry.  Once he has them under his control, he sends them, in full costume, on a mission to kill anyone who thinks that horror is dead!

There’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in How To Make A Monster.  The film not only takes place at American International Pictures but it was produced by AIP as well, so the entire movie is basically full of in-jokes that would only be appreciated by B-movie fans.  For instance, the makeup effects that Pete creates are the same ones that were used in I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and I Was A Teenage Werewolf.  (Gary Conway wore the Frankenstein makeup in both Teenage Frankenstein and this film.)  Towards the end of the film, when Larry and Tony confront Pete at his home, the walls are decorated with all of the monsters that Pete has created throughout the years and attentive viewers will recognize them as coming from such previous AIP films as The She-Creature, It Conquered The World, and Invasion of the Star Creatures.  (Seriously, I loved seeing the big crab monster from It Conquered The World hanging on Pete’s wall.  I’m sure horror and sci-fans in the 1950s felt the same way.)  While the majority of the film is in black-and-white, the scenes in Pete’s home are in full and vibrant color, as if AIP was announcing, “This is what makes the movies fun!”

Needless to say, How To Make A Monster is not a film that was ever meant to be taken seriously.  Instead, it’s a rather cheerful send-up of both the film business and AIP’s own status as a B-studio.  (At times, I felt like the film could just as easily have been called Sam Arkoff’s The Player.)  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that it was largely made as a lark, an inside joke amongst friends.  As such, it’s impossible to dislike this energetic little film.  Director Herbert L. Strock keep the action moving along and, in the lead role, Robert H. Harris gives exactly the type of over-the-top performance that this material needs.

If you’re a fan of 50s drive-in movies, How To Make A Monster is a film that you simply must see!

Rush Week (1991, directed by Bob Bralver)

When campus coeds start to go missing, student journalist Toni Daniels (Pamela Ludwig) investigates.  At first, she suspects that a local fraternity is responsible and that all of the disappearances are linked to the college’s notoriously wild rush week.  But, after she starts dating Jeff (Dean Hamilton), the president of the fraternity, Toni decides that the killer is probably actually Arnold (John Donavon), a cook in the school’s cafeteria who asked all of the missing girls to model for him.  While Toni and Jeff try to prove that Arnold is responsible for all of the recent disappearances, the school’s puritanical Dean (Roy Thinnes), tries to keep rush week under control.  Good luck with that because no one controls rush week.

Rush Week is a mixes two genres, the campus comedy and the slasher film and it tries to proves that not even a string of murders can spoil a good frat party.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a very good job at it.  The comedy isn’t funny, the kills aren’t scary, and the identity of the murderer is obvious from the start.  (Surprise, it’s not Arnold.)  The best performance comes from Roy Thinnes, who gives a performance as the Dean that would make John Vernon proud.  (Almost every actor eventually reaches a point where they have to start taking John Vernon roles to pay the bills.)  Like a lot of bad 90s slashers, Rush Week used to be show up frequently on Late Night Cinemax.  Most people who watched it probably did so because Kathleen Kinmont played the student whose disappearance sets the entire movie in motion.  Kinmont plays a character named Julie Ann McGuffin.  She’s an actual MacGuffin and that’s about as clever as the script gets.

Frankenstein vs. Dracula vs. The Mummy: Who Would Win?

If the next presidential election were held today and the major candidates were Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy, who would win?

I know that’s a question that has been on everyone’s mind and, in order to find out, I went to the Internet Archive and ran the scenario through a game called President Elect.  President Elect was developed as an election simulator in the 80s and it is still considered to be one of the best and most accurate games of its type.  Over the years, President Elect has correctly predicted the results of almost every election since 1988.

After setting the game to duplicate both the fragile state of the American economy and the uncertain outlook of our current place in the world, I then selected my three nominees.  Frankenstein’s Monster ran as the Democratic candidate.  He had no platform, beyond more funds for fire prevention.  As a public speaker, I had to give him a low rating and I also had to admit that he wasn’t good at maintaining his cool under pressure.  However, I did give him high marks on the “personal magnetism” scale because people have been fascinated by the monster for over two hundred years.  Frankenstein’s Monster may seemed like the underdog but perhaps voters would be moved by his personal story and his refusal to take definite positions on the issues.

Running for the Republicans was Dracula.  As for as public speaking, personal magnetism, and staying calm under pressure, Dracula got the highest rating available.  But his platform was undeniably extreme, with absolutely no concern for human rights.  Dracula was the only candidate to be opposed to the agendas of the Religious Right, the National Organization for Women, and the NRA.  (The last thing that a vampire would want would be for everyone to have access to silver bullets.)  Would he be too extreme for the voters?

Finally, running as an independent was the Mummy.  The Mummy had roughly the same platform as Dracula but little of the personal magnetism.  In fact, the Mummy could not even speak.  But he was determined to get what he wanted and again, he scored high on the personal magnetism because he’s been in so many movies despite spending all of his time under wraps.

I allowed the game to simulate the 9 weeks between Labor Day and the election.  Not surprisingly, Frankenstein’s Monster refused to debate Dracula.  As a third party candidate, the Mummy struggled to keep up financially.  I was expecting a close election with a lot of fireworks but instead, it was clear from week one who was going to win.  Dracula led in the polls from the start and, within the first hour of election night, he had the 270 electoral votes necessary to claim the presidency.  He went on to win a lot more than just 270 though.

Here are the votes by state:

America went full Dracula, not only giving him 60% of the popular vote but also 535 electoral votes.  Frankenstein’s Monster won only the District of Columbia and, even then, he only received 67% of the vote in this Democratic stronghold.  After D.C., Frankenstein’s best states were Minnesota and Rhode Island, in which he took 47% of the vote.  The Mummy turned out not to be a factor at all, despite winning 5% of the vote in Florida.  Frankenstein’s Monster may have had the most compassionate platform but Dracula had the charisma.  His best states were Idaho and Utah, both of which he won with 71% of the vote.

See you at the inauguration!

Retro Television Review: One World 2.4 “The Tangled Web” and 2.5 “Playing the Field”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Fridays, I will be reviewing One World, which ran on NBC from 1998 to 2001.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

The Cast of One World

One world, one world …. but will those brothers and sisters uptown ever stop living on the streets….

One World 2.4 “The Tangled Web”

(Directed by Mary Lou Belli, originally aired on October 9th, 1999)

Every TNBC show featured at least one episode about waiting in line for concert tickets.  (On Saved By The Bell, it was all about getting U2 concerts at the mall.)  Every TNBC show would also feature at least one or two episodes about sneaking out of the house late at night.  Apparently, that was almost as big a problem in the 90s as teenage gambling.  One World combined these two storylines by having Jane and Sui sneak out of the house to get concert tickets.

Meanwhile, at The Warehouse (a.k.a., Miami’s Hottest Under-21 Club), Ben wants to date the new waitress, Gina.  Marci warns that Gina has just come out of a bad relationship and is very fragile.  “She needs a certain type of man,” Marci says, “and that man is not you!”

“Awwwwww!’ the audience replies.

Anyway, Sui and Jane get busted by the cops for violating curfew.  A social worker is sent to the house to determine whether or not the Blakes are adequate foster parents.  For some reason, Sui and Jane decide that it’s a good idea to hire actors to pretend to be their parents.  (You may remember Zach doing the same thing when Mr. Belding wanted to see his father.)

Meanwhile, Ben dates Gina but he tries to condition himself so that he won’t try to kiss her.  He does this by having Neal and Cray administer electric shocks to him while he watches Baywatch….

Especially when compared to the first season’s episodes, it’s all a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  Far too often, TNBC shows featured problems that could have easily been solved by the people on the show not acting like a bunch of idiots.  This is one of those episodes.  Let’s move on.

One World 2.5 “Playing the Field”

(Directed by Mary Lou Belli, originally aired on October 16th, 1999)

“No more rules for anyone!” Dave Blake announces, trying to teach his children why the house rules are important.  Soon, the house descends into chaos.

Even more importantly, the coach of a rival school is sending Sui gifts in an effort to bribe her into switching schools!  Isn’t that illegal?  Sui also gets a new boyfriend but it turns out that it’s all a part of the plot to get her to transfer.  Boooo!  What an evil school.

Watching this episode, I found myself kind of wishing that I had played soccer in high school.  Getting gifts from other coaches seems like it would be fun!

Anyway, this was a cool episode because it was a Sui episode but I do have to admit that I couldn’t stop cringing at the sight of that progressively messier house.  We’re all living in one world.  Keep it clean!

Horror Scenes That I Love: “Gotta Light?” from Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks: The Return was full of creepy characters but the Woodsmen may have been the creepiest.

“Gotta light?”

Novel Review: Night Games by R.L. Stine

“What the Hell was that!?” I said, as I read the final line of Night Games.

First published in 1996, Night Games is another one of those R.L. Stine books in which a group of otherwise law-abiding, wholesome American teenagers decide to live every teenager’s fantasy and have some fun by harassing one of their teachers.  (No, Lisa Marie, I loved all of my teachers!  Yeah, I hear you but I don’t believe you.)  Mr. Crowell seems like a nice enough guy but he’s constantly giving Lenny a hard time so all of Lenny’s friends decide that it’s time to play some “night games” with Mr. Crowell.  At first, this is limited to breaking into Mr. Crowell’s house at night and moving stuff around and stealing an item or two.  But then Mr, Crowell dies and our narrator, Diane, has to figure out if he was murdered by her ex-boyfriend or her current boyfriend.  At no point does it ever seem to occur to Diane that, in an ideal world, she wouldn’t have a history of dating boys who are capable of murder.

Anyway, the only special thing about this book is the final twist and I’m going to reveal it because, otherwise, this is going to be a short review.  So, consider this to be your SPOILER ALERT.  (I have to admit that every time I type the words “spoiler alert,” I lose a little respect for myself and even more respect for the people who demand that such warnings be used even for a book that is 26 years old.)  Anyway, it turns out that Lenny, despite his temper, is not the murderer.  Instead, the murderer is Spencer and Spencer …. well, Spencer’s a ghost.  He’s come back from the dead just to make Diane’s life difficult.  He starts to strangle Diane but Diane hugs him and apologizes to him for not being a better friend.  Spencer is conquered by love and his spirit is set free.  Yay!  All of Diane’s friends are happy but what they don’t realize is that Diane is now a ghost and now she’s plotting to get  revenge on all of them!

That’s actually not a bad ending.  Diane’s friends were really annoying so they deserve what’s coming to them.  Still, it’s interesting that Diane automatically became an evil ghost as opposed to a mournful ghost or a philosophical ghost or a confused ghost.  She died and she immediately embraced the dark side.  Agck!

Now, that’s scary!

Book Review: The Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors by Anthony Blond and Laura Blond

Who were the scariest people in the Roman Empire?

According to this book, which was first published in 1994, it was the Emperors.  The Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors takes an enjoyably gossipy and occasionally disturbing look at the first six emperors of the Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar to Nero.  By analyzing the words of Roman historians and occasionally reading between the lines, Anthony Blond makes a good argument that the most powerful men in the ancient world were, for the most part, an incredibly petty group of neurotic people.  Julius Caesar emerges as a pompous blowhard who probably owed most of his reputation to the circumstances of his death.  Augustus is motivated less by strategic genius and more by his fear of never escaping his uncle’s shadow.  Tiberius starts out strong, just to end up a paranoid mess on the Isle of Capri.  Caligula is a spoiled brat.  Claudius emerges as a casually cruel man who used his infirmities as a way to keep his enemies off guard.  And finally, Nero is portrayed as a frustrated artist whose subsequent reputation for cruelty may have been overstated by biased historians.  The emperors are portrayed as being flawed humans who all, even Caligula, had potential to do good but who were ultimately corrupted by a society that treated them like Gods while also constantly plotting their downfall.

Laura Blond contributes chapters about life in ancient Rome. A chapter which examines a day in the life of a Roman citizen reveals not only the grandeur of Rome but also all the details that would have made me frightened to walk barefoot through the city.  If you think the erratic emperors were frightening, just try to get through the chapter about Roman eating habits!  Agck!

It makes for compulsive and occasionally gossipy reading.  I’m a history nerd and I’m fascinated by the Roman Empire so I loved it.

International Horror Review: Jack The Ripper (dir by Jess Franco)

In this 1976 German film, Klaus Kinski plays Dr. Dennis Orlof.

He’s a doctor in what is supposed to be Victorian-era London.  (Some of the characters where Victorian-style clothes.  Some of them definitely do not.)  Dr. Orlof is known for being a kind and compassionate man.  He has dedicated his life to taking care of the poor and the sick.  He is one of the few doctors willing to take care of the men who fish on the Thames and the women who walk the foggy streets of Whitechapel.  Because his patients are not rich, Dr. Orlof makes very little money.  He is usually behind on paying the rent for his office but his lady doesn’t care.  Dr. Orlof is such a kind man.  Who could possibly even think of evicting a living saint?

Of course, what only he and his wife know is that Dr. Orlof is also a deviant who is haunted by hallucinations of a nearly naked woman taunting him and daring him to “come and get me.”  Dr. Orlof haunts the sleazy dance halls of London and he often offers to give the dancers a ride in his carriage.  Dr. Orlof is also the murderer who the press refers to as being Jack the Ripper.

Klaus Kinski as Jack the Ripper?  That sounds like perfect casting, right?  Actually, it’s too perfect.  Klaus Kinski is so obviously unhinged from the first minute that he appears onscreen that it’s impossible to believe that he wouldn’t automatically be everyone’s number one suspect.  Kinski plays Orlof as being someone who is in a permanently bad mood.  Even when Orlof is doing his “good deeds,” he comes across as being so annoyed with the world that the viewer is left to wonder how anyone could have fallen for his act.  Kinski himself seems a bit bored with the role.  When Kinski was invested in a character (as he often was when he appeared in the films of Werner Herzog), he was a dangerously charismatic force of nature.  When he was bored, though, Kinski made little effort to keep anyone else from noticing.  Kinski moves lethargically through Jack the Ripper.

Trying to solve the Ripper case is Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopf).  The film spends a lot of time on Selby’s investigation but it’s never as interesting as one might hope.  Selby spends a lot of time in his office, looking concerned.  When he actually talks to the witnesses to the Ripper’s murders, the scene seem to drag out forever.  In one unfortunate scene, he gathers all the witnesses in one room and asks each one to describe what the Ripper looked like so a sketch can be made of him.  Again, what should have been a minute or two-minute scene is dragged out to an unbearable seven minutes.  Seven minutes is a lot of time when you’re bored.

Jack the Ripper was directed by Jess Franco.  On this site, I’ve defended some of Franco’s other films.  Franco was an idiosyncratic filmmaker whose films often felt rushed but who was also capable of creating a dream-like atmosphere and occasionally coming up with an insanely bizarre plot twist.  Jack the Ripper, with its tormented title character and its dance hall scenes, in unmistakably a Jess Franco film.  Unfortunately, it’s also often excruciatingly dull.  Kinski was obviously a big name in Europe in the 70s but I kind of wish that Franco had cast his frequent star, Howard Vernon, as Jack the Ripper.  Not only was Vernon the start of the original Awful Dr. Orlof but Vernon also specialized in playing self-loathing aristocrats.  If nothing else, Vernon would have been a bit less oblivious in his madness than Kinski.

Jack the Ripper is definitely a lesser Franco film.  It’s also a lesser Kinski film and a lesser Jack the Ripper film.  There is one good sequence in which Orlof and a victim ride through the London fog in a carriage.  Otherwise, this is a Franco film that you can get away with skipping.